After remaining largely silent to protests by gay rights advocates, the Russian conductor Valery Gergiev issued a statement on Wednesday seeking to clarify his views on his country's controversial legislation on homosexuality.
Gergiev, the principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and director of the Mariinsky Theater in Russia, has drawn protests in New York and London this fall over his close ties to Vladimir Putin. The conductor actively campaigned for Putin's reelection and recently, he was awarded the Hero of Labor medal by the Russian president. Activists have demanded that Gergiev speak out about Russia's laws prohibiting the public discussion of homosexuality, which were enacted earlier this year.
The most recent protest came last Friday when a gay-rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell, stepped onto the stage of the Barbican Center in London and denounced the conductor. Another protest is planned for Thursday at the hall, where Gergiev will conduct the London Symphony in a performance of Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust.
"I am aware of the gay rights protest that took place at the Barbican last week prior to my concert with the LSO," Gergiev said on his Facebook page. "I have said before that I do not discriminate against anyone, gay or otherwise, and never have done, and as head of the Mariinsky Theatre this is our policy."
"It is wrong to suggest that I have ever supported anti-gay legislation and in all my work I have upheld equal rights for all people. I am an artist and have for over three decades worked with tens of thousands of people in dozens of countries from all walks of life and many of them are indeed my friends.
"I collaborate with and support all my colleagues in the endeavor for music and art. This is my focus as a conductor, musician, artist and as artistic and general director of the Mariinsky Theatre and principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra."
The protests against Gergiev began when he conducted the opening-night gala performance of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin at the Metropolitan Opera in September and continued when he led the Mariinsky Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. (The Mariinsky Theater is also home to a ballet company and opera house, all of which receive state support.)
In an e-mail on Thursday, Andrew Rudin, a New Jersey composer who started an online petition prior to the Met's opening night, lauded the "rather welcome news that our objections have finally penetrated to Mr. Gergiev."
Gergiev's statement comes as music critics have been examining the conductor's views and calling for a boycott of his concerts. The London Symphony Orchestra, which has also been criticized, appeared to distance itself from Gergiev on Twitter.